Report from Covelo

Back from my adventure in Covelo: the katazome workshop with John Marshall. The road to Covelo, CA follows the Eel River, officially Wild and Scenic. A wonderful place to swim too!


Classes take place in John’s home/studio, a restored flour mill. The dates on the facade are 1888-1914-1999.



A few insights:  Yes, I have been making my rice paste too thick, and the raw paste too dry. Revelation: golf balls and doughnuts are unnecessary. I really like this! Here, the raw paste is ready to steam.


I have been working with freeze-dried indigo this summer, and it was great to observe the preparation of the vat and then the re-heating of the vat the next day. Here are pictures from our indigo experience.

Introducing the freeze-dried “instant” indigo to the vat:


Here are two ways of skimming the oxidized bubbles, “aibana” or indigo blossoms, from the top of the vat, which is necessary unless you want the dark spots of bloom on your work.

skimming with a soft muslin cloth
skimming with a screen strainer

Using the 2nd method is great — you can then dry the bubbles and use them as indigo pigments along with the soymilk.

attaching cloth to frame for dipping

Ready to dip the cloth.  (That’s my Covelo house-mate Eva Pietzcker, a printmaker from Berlin who makes beautiful woodblock prints in the Japanese tradition of mokuhanga.) John has a rope and pulley system, used primarily for larger pieces of work which need the larger ceramic vat (which you can see behind John). These containers are from China and were originally designed to hold soy sauce.


The cloth goes in slowly … count to three … pull it out and over the outside edge of the vat to drip. You want to avoid introducing oxygen. John’s rule of thumb: the rice paste resist can withstand three brief dips, then must hang to dry before further dunking. If you want it darker, repeat this until you achieve the depth of color desired. Observe the paste — you want to stop before it starts to break down.


See the lovely dark green which will turn blue as it oxidizes …


Afternoon break most days featured home-made shaved ice! John has a lovely Japanese cast-iron hand-crank machine with gears – the ice is held by a vice-grip-like mechanism on top of a flat blade. A hand crank turns the blade and the shaved ice falls into the bowl below. We tried it with powdered green Japanese tea and sugar syrup on top; and with home-made blackberry sauce! Yum!

The hot dry air in Covelo is perfect for working outside, stretching fabric between uprights of the Wisteria arbor.

wisteria arbor and yard
stretching cloth with shinshi

Oh, and I must not forget Nutmeg, the cat.

clouds above Colorado

Warm weather means indigo

This past week we had some 90 degree weather so I continued my indigo experiments using the stencils that Shibori Girl gave me along with some indigo moons I purchased from her shop. The darker dots were brushed on through the stencils after two more dips into the indigo bath, washing out the rice paste, and brushing on a layer of soybean milk. The soybean milk prepares the surface to minimize wicking as well as help to prevent the indigo from rubbing off (crocking). I mixed my natural pigments with soybean milk. Sounds like a lot of fussing but really wasn’t — just a few moments in the warm afternoons, out in the blooming garden. (If you want to learn more about painting with Indigo, check out this article from Turkey Red Journal, written by John Marshall.)

The glue-like grip of the paste resist never ceases to amaze me. This week I did 2 more dips leaving the fabric in for 2 minutes each and drying on the line fully between each dip.

And closer up…

A gift of hand-woven African cotton; read for dip in dye vat later today. I pasted through some old crocheted doilies – doilies as stencils.



Three dips

The past few days have been warm enough to try an instant indigo vat outdoors! So here’s an update on my experiment using the freeze dried “instant” indigo to dye over the paste-resist dot patterns described in a previous post.

I dipped each sample in the indigo pail, briefly, 3 times, drying between each dip. Since there is rice paste on the surface, I can’t leave it to soak. Therefore, many dips are required to darken the color. Today I dipped each piece again but I wonder if the vat is spent/oxidized. It didn’t have the green scum on the surface when I started. I can add more freeze dried indigo and try again, but I need to wait for warmer weather. Solar energy is the best way to re-heat the vat and we’ve got some cool and rainy weather coming. The garden will like that!